I’ve struggled with my curly hair all my life. First, the challenge was coming to grips with the fact that I had curly, brown hair when every pretty pop star had straight, blond hair. Second, trying to tame it and figure out how to wear it: mountains of gel and hairspray for a crispy hold was the only look I could go for in the early 2000s. I have distinct memories of my siblings and cousins teasing me about my hair, of going swimming with friends and being too afraid to get my hair wet, of standing in front of the mirror crying until my mom blow-dried it straight. I wished my curls away with all my might, but the wishing didn’t work. The flat iron did!
I started flat ironing my hair right after I moved to college. I discovered that the two-and-a-half hours it took to straighten my thick, coarse locks resulted in more attention from dudes and that ultra-satisfying feeling of adhering to a standard of beauty. I straightened my hair so much that years later, I noticed that my hair wasn’t curling much when wet anymore. I thought my wishing had worked—my hair is finally becoming straight! I didn’t realize that I had been damaging it beyond the point of repair.
There was an odd moment with my roommate once. A girl I had been living with for four years at the time and one of my closest friends made a remark that stunned me. I mentioned that I had to straighten my hair, a process that I was proud to have gotten down to an hour, and she said she didn’t understand why my hair took so long to straighten.
“Because my hair is naturally super curly,” I said, bluntly.
“It is?” she said. “I mean, it’s not that curly…”
I was stunned, first of all, that someone I’d lived with for four years didn’t even know I had curly hair. I was also flabbergasted at the fact that she had described my hair as “not that curly.” My wish from childhood to have straight hair had come true: I had damaged it so much that the curl pattern was gone, and I wasn’t even close to happy about it. I was downright upset.
So, I tried to wear it curly: I bought gel, of course, and there were a few curl-friendly products on the shelves at this point. I bought some curl cream and conditioning
After a few months of extreme care, effort, and attention, my curls came back! I had my routine down, I knew what products worked for me, and I also understood that my hair was still transitioning and it’d take a couple of years to see the full transformation. I’d spent hundreds—probably over a thousand—on my hair during my 6-month curl journey. When I decided to move to Spain, I packed an overweight suitcase filled to the brim with my hair products and paid extra for the airline to haul that thing aboard.
When I got to Europe, my life changed dramatically, and it was difficult to keep up with my hair routine. My products were running low, and there was nowhere to buy curl-friendly products unless I wanted to spend over 100 euros on products and shipping. I was stressed about my hair, and I began to lament to my new friends (who, conversely, had no idea that I ever had straight hair) about how much easier my hair routine was when I was straightening it. I’d fantasize about not spending so much time every day on my hair, about not having to tie it into a satin scarf every night or having to refresh it every morning. The weather was also doing a number on my hair, and even though I was spending so much time and money on it, I realized that I just didn’t like the way my curls looked anymore.
My new life in Spain meant that I had a new job, a new level of income, and new expenses. I started keeping a budget and tallied how much I had spent on curl-related products in my first month: over 100 euros, and this was before a big online order to a British company that had all the products I would need. All this to keep up with hair that I didn’t like! I realized that while I was going through this experience, my curls weren’t a priority. I wanted the time and the money I was spending on my hair to go toward traveling, meeting new people, and new experiences. I tallied the cost of a haircut, flat iron, and heat protectant spray—much cheaper, and a one-time cost. After a visit to a friendly hair stylist named Vicente, I was living in the land of the straight-haired once again.
Also, for what it’s worth…not one Spanish man hit on me while my hair was curly, not one! I got three “guapísima“s on my first day walking around with straight hair. It’s kinda messed up, but, ya know…for what it’s worth. College me was right.
I would still call my curly hair journey a success. I learned how to properly care for my hair and to embrace the natural beauty in it. But, the fact is, curly hair takes a lot of work and is a big commitment, especially when you’re transitioning away from damage (as most curly girls are). The timing wasn’t right for me to continue my journey and see my hair’s full potential, but I also know that my relationship with my curls isn’t over. They’re like a puppy: I love them, but I can’t have them until I can give them the time and attention they deserve.
Are you thinking about starting your curly hair journey, or have you tried and stopped? Was your journey a success? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your story and find some inspiration in it!